Disorganized, reactive business owners and other managers often complain of continually being drawn into “fighting fires,” meaning that emergencies and failures frequently demand immediate, ad hoc attention. I find this metaphor comical since real firefighters do not operate in the haphazard, seat-of-the-pants manner so familiar in many businesses. Professional firefighters–well, there’s the answer right in the modifier. The people responding to actual hot fires are professionals. They train, they plan, and they follow proven procedures.
My friend, Brad Mayhew, is the real deal. A former hotshot wildland firefighter, just like the ones in the movie, Only the Brave, which dramatized the tragedy of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. Brad also worked on the investigation into why that crew died.
One of Brad’s lessons from the dangerous wildland kind of firefighting can help those engaged in the safe office kind of “firefighting.” During the Coal Canyon Fire in 2011, two firefighters found themselves in a vehicle surrounded by flames. One was soon overcome by the fumes and heat. Hearing their distress calls, Reese, a nearby firefighter, radioed back that the survivor must leave the vehicle immediately and run fifty feet through flames, fumes, and hot ash to reach safety.
Would you accept that advice from a co-worker? How about from someone who didn’t even work for your company, a supplier or client? That firefighter is alive because he took the advice. Here’s what he did, as Brad wrote in Firehouse magazine:
“‘I have a close relationship with Reese. Because of who he is and because it came from him … that was what we had to do.’”
How did they get to know and trust one another? Training together. Agencies in the area hold joint large-scale scenarios, live-fire exercises, simulations and classroom training. Training together builds trust and familiarity across agency lines.
But it had not always been that way between these fire departments. They used to be like the different departments in many dysfunctional commercial enterprises:
Twenty years earlier, agency relationships were described as “very contentious” with “mutual resentment and animosity.”
Local leaders decided to fix this: “We all just finally understood that the old ways and the animosity were getting us nowhere, and that it’s not about ourselves. We were not serving the people on the ground. We weren’t getting the firefighters what they needed. That’s wrong. We … needed to set the example” (SAI Report, D&A). The Report goes on to say, “It took 10 years of deliberate effort to transform relationships among cooperators.”
Once again, performance —even survival— is all about trust.
Learn the 5 components of trust by clicking here for my article.